Amid the latest in a series of temporary reprieves, Bertrand Goldberg’s former Prentice Women’s Hospital was again denied landmark status by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. Despite once again turning out a crowd of supporters who contributed hours of impassioned testimony, many preservationists were unsurprised by an outcome that they chalked up to political determinism. “I have this suspicion that [owner] Northwestern [University] has put before us a false choice,” said Commissioner James Houlihan, who nonetheless voted along with all of his fellow commissioners to deny the 1975 building landmark status. The commission Thursday reprised, in a way, a vote taken in November, in which they recognized the litany of evidence qualifying Prentice as an architectural landmark, voted to grant the building landmark status, and subsequently revoked their own decision in a second, almost unanimous vote. (The sole holdout during that vote, Christopher Reed, resigned at the end of 2012.) Their reason for doing so, said commission Chairman Rafael Leon, was a provision in municipal code that called on them to allow testimony from the city’s Department of Housing and Economic Development. The jobs and tax dollars promised by new construction, they concluded, outweighed the building’s architectural significance—logic that preservationists took issue with on several levels. In December the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the Landmarks Preservation Council claimed in court that the commission “acted arbitrarily and exceeded its authority,” when it denied the building landmark status by considering economic matters so prominently. Judge Neil Cohen dismissed that suit in January, but not without raising concerns over the commission’s transparency. “The commission maintains that it did not violate the landmarks ordinance or any other law,” Leon said when it came time to discuss Prentice. To show their methods were “beyond reproach,” he said, they would again hear public testimony. Jeff Case, a principal at Holabird & Root, was among the design professionals who opposed preservation, saying Prentice had “outlived its useful life.” “The building has moved on, and so should we,” he said. “333 East Superior will not be missed.” Carol Post of Thornton & Tomasetti concurred, citing structural problems in the building’s clover-shaped concrete shell. Still many more echoed the sentiments of an open letter signed in July by more than 65 architects, calling on the commission to reject the recommendation of the Department of Housing and Economic Development that previously swayed them to withhold landmark protection. “A Walmart will always generate more revenue than a water tower,” said Preservation Chicago’s Jonathan Fine. Christina Morris, a senior field officer in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Chicago office, similarly rebuked the commissioners for appearing to sidestep their civic duty. “You have an obligation,” she said, “to protect Chicago’s cultural heritage.” Since the commission’s November decision, preservationists have also attempted to meet Northwestern’s arguments on their own terms. Architects submitted four proposals for reuse that also included new buildings to satisfy Northwestern’s stated development needs. They claimed saving the Goldberg structure would result in an additional $103 million in one-time expenditures, $155 million annually in operating costs, $1.1 million in yearly tax revenue, and create 980 new jobs. Northwestern dismissed those proposals Thursday in a statement that called their economic assumptions “deeply flawed.” The four alternatives were “not viable,” said Northwestern’s Eugene Sunshine, because of structural challenges presented by Prentice and because some of them relied on developing nearby vacant land not owned by Northwestern University, but by Northwestern Memorial HealthCare. Commissioner Houlihan asked Sunshine if it was disingenuous to suggest the sister organizations could not get together and work out a solution to that problem. Sunshine said it was not. Dean Harrison, president of Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, later testified that NMH had "long-standing plans" to build something else on the site, but did not provide a timeline for that development. Though Thursday’s decision could mark the end for preservationists in a long and heated fight, another court hearing is set for February 15.
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Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Hospital has become the cause célèbre for architectural preservationists from across Chicago and beyond, now garnering five more Pritzker-toting allies amid mounting pressure for demolition. Robert Venturi, Tadao Ando, Jacques Herzog, Pierre de Meuron, and Eduardo Souto de Moura added their names to a letter sent to Mayor Rahm Emanuel last month from more than 60 architects, including Frank Gehry. Dan Coffey and Jack Hartray of Chicago, George Miller of New York City, Denise Scott Brown of Philadelphia, and Bjarke Ingels of Copenhagen also joined the chorus of designers calling on Chicago city officials to grant the iconic cloverleaf structure landmark status. The National Trust for Historic Preservation recently completed a landmark recommendation report, but Chicago’s Commission on Landmarks, the City Council, and the mayor will ultimately determine whether its owner can proceed with its plans to demolish. AIA Chicago and Landmarks Illinois have long supported landmark designation for the building, which Northwestern University wants to demolish so it can construct a medical research tower. Preservationists counter Northwestern owns vacant land nearby that should be considered for new construction. Reuse options for Prentice, vacant since 2007, abound—a reuse study by Landmarks Illinois found rehabilitation as a lab, office or residential tower would take less time and cost less than new construction on the site. Goldberg designed the hospital to actualize his vision for community-building through architecture. The four bays in the building’s unique quatrefoil floorplan were meant to preserve sightlines and encourage interaction between and among patients and staff. Its concrete shell, designed uncharacteristically for the time with the aid of computers, is a unique feat of engineering permitting column-free floors. It was hailed as a structural engineering milestone upon its completion in 1975. “The legacy of Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Women’s Hospital is unmistakable,” the letter reads. “Chicago’s global reputation as a nurturer of bold and innovative architecture will wither if the city cannot preserve its most important achievements.” There is a Commission on Chicago Landmarks meeting this Thursday, and Prentice supporters are trying to put the issue on the agenda, but the Commission has not responded. They have not weighed in on the issue in more than a year, even ruling a coalition representative who tried to broach the topic out of order during the last meeting. UPDATE: The Commission's agenda does not include Prentice.
We've been following Chicago's Olympic bid rather closely of late, and not only because we're on the way to inaugurating a Midwest edition of the paper. First, there was SOM's intriguing proposal to create "sustainable," "low-impact" Olympics that would have few legacy costs by using temporary facilities, an approach the IOC apparently favored. Then there was the impact of that plan, which still called for the demolition of some buildings—as well as hundreds of trees in Washington Park—most notably at the Walter Gropius-designed Michael Reese hospital campus. Outcry from preservationists led the city to delay demolition, which made time for the preservationists to develop alternative plans. Olympic opponents may be catching another break now, as, ironically enough, the very things the IOC purportedly liked about Chicago's bid-lite may also be its undoing. The IOC released its evaluation report today, which outlines the strengths and weaknesses of of each city's bid a month in advance of the final selection. In addition to Chicago, Rio de Janeiro, Tokyo, and Madrid are vying for the games. Reports indicate the South American city could be the favorite, while Chicago's proposal was called "ambitious," which sounds like damning praise, with the Tribune doing a good job of highlighting the curious position the IOC has laid out:
A risk highlighted for Chicago's bid, the planned use of many temporary venues, reflects an IOC desire to have its cake and eat it, too. Based on the 2003 report of a Games study commission, the IOC espouses the idea of not wanting host cities to build expensive, permanent venues that will become underused, costly-to-maintain white elephants. Yet it also is thrilled when a city like Beijing goes overboard to do just that. In its detailed evaluation of the Chicago bid's response to the 17 themes assessed, the report praises the city's concept for being ``in line with the IOC Games Study Commission recommendation to `build a new venue only if there is a legacy need...''' In the same sentence, the report says that means a greater burden on the Olympic organizing committee (OCOG) to pay for and deliver that part of the project, as opposed to cities that build permanent structures and do not assign their cost and development to the Games operations (OCOG) budget. In its summary of the Chicago bid, the report says there is increased risk in Chicago due to an ``emphasis on major temporary or scaled-down venues.'' That includes the Olympic Stadium, which would be a temporary, 80,000-seat structure. Chicago bid officials have insisted their venue plan not only is financially responsible but could be a model for future Olympic host cities.Clearly, cost is a concern, especially in these economically challenging times. Still, the ambivalence the IOC has for what exactly it wants is amusing, if not downright frustrating. That is, of course, unless you're a preservationist wanting nothing to do with the current Olympic bid. Oh, and guess what else is a concern? The weather, of course. Or, as only the FT could put it, "meteorological shortcomings." (h/t ArchNewsNow)